Jimmy Greaves, who turns 80 on Thursday, is easily the best English forward of all time according to 1966 World Cup hat-trick hero Sir Geoff Hurst.
Until 2017 Greaves held the record for the most career goals in Europe’s top five leagues – 366 – with Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo the man who finally surpassed him.
Greaves also scored 44 goals in 57 caps for England, although an injury in the final group game of the 1966 World Cup allowed Hurst the chance to come into the side and go on to be the man whose hat-trick in the final secured the trophy.
The disappointment of missing the final did not create animosity between the pair – “not for one second” says Hurst – and the former West Ham star, 78, had no hesitation in naming his former Hammers team-mate the greatest English striker there has ever been.
“There have been some great players but forwards are judged on goals, and there’s nobody who could touch him,” Hurst told the PA news agency.
“I am asked is there any animosity between Jimmy and I, because I took his place? But not for one second.
“Jimmy has always said it was a bitter blow. There is no way that team would have changed had he not been injured (against France). Leaving Jimmy Greaves out was not an option.
“You hear the term genius, and it is the one word which applies to Jimmy.
“I played against him for West Ham when he was at Spurs, and in one game he missed a penalty and put it over the bar. He came back across the centre circle and said ‘Geoff, sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t’. That was the ‘don’t give a s***’ attitude that you need.
“In a crowded penalty area, 20 people in it, he would always anticipate and find space and the ball would then come to him. Jimmy would always expect the ball – it would bounce off three players, the crossbar twice and the goalkeeper but he would be ready and prepared to just tap it in. It was quite a unique skill.”
Greaves came through the youth ranks at Chelsea, making his debut aged 17 on the opening day of the 1957-58 season. He scored an incredible 132 goals in 169 games for the west London side, and was only 20 years and 290 days old when he reached the 100-goal mark.
He joined AC Milan just before the abolition of the maximum wage in England in 1961, but despite continuing to score goals at an impressive rate he did not settle in Italy and returned to England with Tottenham before the year was out.
He became one of Spurs’ all-time greats, and holds the club scoring record with 268 goals, winning the FA Cup in 1962 and 1967 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1963, the same year the club finished second in the old First Division.
He moved to West Ham as part of an exchange deal with the late Martin Peters in 1970, but he began to struggle with alcoholism.
“We played almost a season together – it was a great privilege to play with one of the greatest players you’d ever seen,” Hurst said.
“I probably wish we’d played together when we were a bit younger, and more games with him for the national side.”
Greaves suffered a stroke in May 2015 which has left him wheelchair-bound and with severely impaired speech.
A new BT Sport documentary about his life aired on Tuesday night, and a special charity screening of it will take place at Stevenage’s football ground on Thursday night, with former Spurs players Ossie Ardiles, Micky Hazard and Pat Jennings due to attend.
A limited amount of tickets remain available, with the event helping to raise money for the care Greaves needs.
Jimmy Greaves.— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 13, 2020
His son Danny describes Greaves senior as “a wonderful father, you couldn’t wish for a better one” who adores his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Lynn is his eldest child, and Jimmy Jr – Greaves’ and wife Irene’s second child – died of pneumonia at just six months old in 1960. They later had a second daughter, Mitzi, and sons Danny and Andy.
One of Danny’s favourite memories of his dad – an incomparable footballer – actually involves another sport entirely.
“I remember him breaking the greenhouse window with a cricket ball,” he said. “We were going on holiday to Portugal that morning, so it was obviously the summertime, I was probably about nine or 10.
“Me, dad and my brother Andy were messing around in the garden, I bowled him a ball and him being the sports person he is, he whips it off his legs, a hell of a cricket shot straight into the greenhouse window, about 20 minutes before we were due to go on holiday.
“Dad laughed – as a kid you’re waiting for his reaction and so we just laughed as well. We just left it and went on holiday, that was it.”
Danny Greaves said his dad never made a big deal of his stellar talent, and added: “He is the most humble, modest man. You go into his house and you would never know (who he was) – if they did ‘Through The Keyhole’ in dad’s house you would never get that he was an iconic footballer.
“In his study there’s a couple of pictures of him with Muhammad Ali, Sir Stanley Matthews, Sir Bobby Moore – but otherwise you wouldn’t have a clue.”
Danny Greaves said he and his brother and two sisters would visit their dad on and around his birthday, and he is due to watch the documentary about his life alongside two of his grandchildren on Thursday afternoon.
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